The Face of the Future

Nothing is really going on, and that’s a good thing.

The last three weekends I had have been entirely absorbed by other events. The latest was a trip to Miami Beach. Although relaxing, my inner introvert badly needs time away from people. I desperately want to think, ponder and create.

I completely missed my last submission window. Again. The story is there and the development and pacing thus far are good. However, I decided to give up when I realized how cramped a 6,000 word limit was going to be. Normally, one can speak to editors and so on to go beyond this limit… provided the tale is spellbinding and there’s no expectation of pay beyond the word count maximum. But there was so little time to await an answer. And I had gone through 3,500 words just to ready the complexities of the main plot.

The next few months have a few projects:

  • Finish writing and editing all existing drafts to “stay hot” and keep a collection ready for future submission windows.
  • Continue to develop the business website and get it operational by the turn of the year.
  • Finish Outliers Volume 2.
  • Complete the synopsis and first chapters for the next novel, an original.
  • Begin preparing the KickStarter package.

Yeah, you read that last one correctly.

A friend and I have been discussing it. I’ve been studying successful KickStarters and have a good sense of what we’ll need to present in order to succeed. The secret I’ve noticed is that the amount of effort put into the KickStarter itself is frequently a good indication of the project runner’s commitment to the project.

A lot of thought has to go into devising a good KickStarter. The project itself has to show initiative and polish. The reward tiers have to be fair to both parties; not too little as to disappoint potential funders and not too much as to overburden the project runners and put the project at risk. We have to have a voice and a good idea, and our ship should be waterproof before hitting the ocean.

One point that a friend of mine has indicated is that many successful KickStarters are actually, effectively, finished. Manuel and I have been in discussion of what to do for this and decided to try producing at least one example of the end product before showcasing the project. Having a “prototype” can:

  1. Prove whether or not we can do it. And whichever tools could we use to speed up or make it possible.
  2. Show how long it took to make a single prototype under less-than-optimal conditions (we’ve never done this particular type of work before, we had no outside funding, etc.)
  3. Alleviate concerns raised about our experience for a KickStarter. When project runners explain, “This is all new to us,” it doesn’t instill confidence in backers. But a combination of relate-able and direct experience will ease backer concerns even if this is our first KickStarter.

After some discussion today, we have the general story outline down for the first portion. So sometime soon I’ll sit down and work on the actual manuscript.

Pacing Along

In preparation for a number of upcoming future projects, I’ve been sharpening my editing knives on older stories of mine. Not only to ready them for a personal anthology release but also to study how much I’ve grown over the course of three years of writing.

What’s interesting is how remarkably different and telling each stories technical errors are. If there are many characters, the shifting point of view is a constant issue. One story had me wondering if I even spoke English, but then I distinctly remembered turning it over to the publishing company before I had a chance to proof it, desperate to make it by the due date. They loved and published it, but as I later noticed, no real editing had been performed against the original manuscript.

The personal anthology is a kind of small redemption for that reason. A quiet shame for allowing tales to be printed before they were fully fleshed out. However, I’m surprisingly comfortable with the actual quality of the plots and stories themselves and the pacing is never less than decent. Although they require polish, there’s a satisfying feeling of “it’s there.”

On the subject of pacing, I’ve been reading Glen Cook’s The Black Company, an on-going series of nine current novels, one spin-off, several short stories and at least two more upcoming books. The epic/dark fantasy franchise is still towards the bottom of at least one “longest fantasy series” ranking. In others, it rarely comes up in several others at all.

I have to give it to Cook, the man is an absolute genius at avoiding the info dump. I’ve never seen someone just stroll along so successfully accepting of otherworldly elements like magic as though they were as common as grass. You have to read his work and get caught up later. But there’s little that’s inaccessible about it as a result.

The sheer amount of details regarding a fictional world can, without care, become a powerful barrier to fan entry. Few worlds are as developed as, say, Warhammer 40,000. And as a result, an incredibly common question by new fans is “where do I start reading?” And it’s not easy to answer, because there’s so much to learn. Their universe is remarkably deep.

“Info dumping” is something that has come to mind as of late. Defined, it simply means the use of exposition to clarify world-building elements. Understanding of it can be a little subjective; one man’s info dump is another man’s tale. The Lord of the Rings is one such series which engaged in the act to great success.

Amusingly, as I talked to my friends about it, absolutely none of us could deny that we’ve blown hours of our lives reading the Lexicanum, and similar wikias that are nothing but info dump depots. It seems strange to me that for the ethos of expos-lanation being bad in the actual material, we tend to waste so much time utterly bathing in it.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t limits. I know plenty of stories where I barely read beyond a few pages because of the sheer density of an opening. But personally, there are occasions after I’m invested in the story that a little explanation can go a long way to turning me into a raving fan of the work. There reaches a point when you just want to know, and being straight told is more of a boon than a liability.

Big in Japan

Last week has been huge. The biggest in my career as a writer. I’ve signed contracts for two publications, including one for the start of our new novella series, Outliers. So obviously the only solution is to celebrate with terrible-awesome 80’s music.

With regards to the other agreement, I don’t want to give away any details until the publisher’s formal announcement. However, after some soul searching, I’ve realized that I can’t allow myself to write reviews about a particular type of product anymore. This aches because of a recent release I really wanted to cover and discuss. But to do so would slightly risk being a conflict of interest, for reasons similar to why I don’t do book reviews these days.

It’s not that an author necessarily shouldn’t review books, as it can be done ethically and fairly. A decent metaphor for the matter is the dilemma of dating at one’s workplace; perfectly acceptable as long as Human Resources is informed and one is prepared for the consequence of a relationship failing. But personally with regard to reviews, I’d rather just avoid those financially interconnected concerns down the road. Recuses over excuses.

I’ve one final short story window to commit to this year… and I just noticed it’s due in two weeks, so that’s all the time I have for today.

Gauntlet: Slayer Edition Review

“It’s here,” I told the misses as 1.5 gigabytes pushed their way through my network, applying a hefty patch against one of the most accessible titles ever released. Gauntlet has already occupied my time for almost an entire year because of its easy to join couch co-op. The first edition was a fun game that’s enjoyable for both hardcore gamers and more social/casual types. After a month of play however, the original version could become a grinding task, the levels repetitive and requiring a hefty commitment of hours.

All of that is gone. The core gameplay remains, focusing on smashing hordes of foes, taking out summoning stones, grabbing gold and not shooting (or do I?) the food. But everything else has expanded and grown, matured in depth and complexity. Even the opening menu wows with a great image of the dungeon’s entrance and a powerful musical theme reminiscent of both Gauntlet Seven Sorrow and the talents of Basil Poledouris, best remembered for the bombastic, adrenaline-inducing scores of Conan the Barbarian.

As the misses and I descended into the first dungeon, it didn’t take long for us to notice huge differences visually. The camera gently zooms in and out to adjust to the overall size of the room or tunnel. A layer of shade has been dry washed over everything; The stages are considerably more detailed, packed with new background elements like weapon racks and decorations, ruined red carpets and drapes and tons of fresh props. The caverns now sport moss and lichens, adding splashes of color. Each of the three major areas sported unique breakable gold pots and explosives, reducing repetition and making each stage memorable in its own right.

Not all of it is static either. Passing a familiar corner between two trip-spike traps, we came across a large mummy bursting from a coffin. In the second stage, we suddenly noticed a ripple effect as we battled our way across flooded floors. The level designers loved dropping little acts of dramatic tension, such as momentarily trapping us when we encounter the first enemy necromancer until a pair of summoning stones spawn as well. All-too-familiar paths have been changed and altered with better use of traps to test one’s dexterity.

gauntlet2The heroes we know and love now sport new tricks and configurations. Chiefly, weapons are no longer just cosmetic rewards. New special abilities are dependent upon them, and allow for innovative strategies and playstyles. Each character, including the DLC-addition Lilith, gets four options.

For example, the Warrior Thor can swap out his familiar cyclone attack for a thrown slash. It’s not as far reaching as his original move and doesn’t grant invincibility, but the assault is insanely powerful, downing large mummies or cutting the health of summoning stones in twain with a single blow. As if this wasn’t enough, one of his available axes transforms his over-the-head chop into a spammable ranged axe-throw! Thyra can forgo her shield-toss for a stunning-then-slaying spin, and Questor can use abilities to root foes in place or fade into the shadows. Grouchy Merlin now gets three new schools of magic, each can replace one of his existing elemental spell sets while Lilith can summon new varieties of undead such as archers or explosive ghosts.

These changes have steepened the learning curve, which is even more vertical thanks to unique potion abilities, three apiece per character. I laughed aloud when I decided to try one, and Thor lobbed a potion at the enemy like a grenade. His other potion abilities allow him to transform one monster into food, while the last lets him becomes twice his size and invincible for a short while. Merlin can consume a vial to cast Polymorph on a several monsters, transforming them into random items. And one of Questor’s abilities pacifies foes and heals allies, just as the Siren’s Lute used to do.

Just about every enemy has been changed. Skeletal archers have been swapped for Skeleton Commanders, who can make their soldiers invincible and launch freezing arrows. Orc Juggernauts now go berserk after losing half their life, and become charging brawlers with shocking agility. Skeleton Warriors are now Defenders, who can have their shields broken but become faster when it happens. For veterans, almost everything we know is now wrong.

gauntlet3Relics are still present, but their powers are reduced and they now operate on a cool down instead of consuming potions. This also expands possibilities, even during boss fights which wasn’t possible before. Most remain similar to the version past but some have been tweaked for balance, such as the Golden Feather and the Siren’s Lute, preventing abuse.

There have been a few other interesting changes. Skull tokens are now regular items which can be found as well as earned, granting extra lives. And masteries no longer provide the bonuses they used too. This figures, given that the monster slaying masteries once granted 10, 20 and 30% damage increase upon completion, and then were dropped to a meager 1, 2 and 3%. To be fair, Gauntlet never really was an RPG to begin with, so this change puts player success squarely on their skills, with no promises of improvement or “grinding to succeed.”

A few final touches to mention. Players who complained about the slow rate of the Colosseum’s turn over have been heeded; The Colosseum mode now changes daily rather than quarterly. Arrowhead has also cooked up the Endless Mode, where parties can descend deeper and deeper into increasingly challenging situations, such as having Death chase the player through cavern tunnels and even through the fire pits. Will they combine these challenges, adding fireballs, death and darkness? We haven’t made it that far, so who knows?

But one way or the other, PlayStation 4 players are in for a treat, and PC gamers can witness a good game become the Gauntlet we deserve. Check it out today.

Correction: The Wizard’s Polymorph works on more than one foe, not a single one as previously reported. This has been corrected in the body of the text.

Ant-Man Review

antmanThis review is a critical analysis of the movie, and as such there are spoilers. 

There’s a part of me that secretly worries Ant-Man may just be the outlier, the black sheep of Marvel Studios. Originally to be directed by comic genius Edgar Wright, that duty passed to Peyton Reed, who did an exceptional job of bringing our tiny hero to the screen. Wright’s departure was earmarked as being one of “creative differences.” One reasonable explanation was that Wright began his work on Ant-Man in 2006, when Marvel (as a cinematic studio) was still young. During the course of the script’s development, the studio was acquired by Disney, which changed their direction considerably. As a result, the introduction of the greater Marvel universe was a factor in Wright’s decision to leave.

In that sense, Ant-Man is a marvel in and of itself. It’s rare that multiple visions blend and arrive at something cohesive, as the recent Fantastic Four movie has so reminded audiences. The original script may still bear resemblance to Wright’s work, but it has been altered by both Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd with input from Marvel. Reed as director also must have added his own touches.

From start to end, Ant-Man does an exceptional job of shaking up the usual tropes that have come to dominate comic book derived films. Sam Raimi is probably the most thought of director for establishing these conventions in his overall impressive Spider-Man trilogy (I leave your opinion of Spider-Man 3 to you, dear audience.) I like to believe that Wright respected this and worked with the original source material to avoid these cliches.

Rather than a young man still wrestling with his budding sense of morality, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a former thief recently paroled for a righteous heist against his former company. Despite his good intentions a crime is still a crime, and Lang is divorced and kept at arm’s length from his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) until he can at least provide child support payments, a challenge given his background. The usual moral convictions many super heroes earn from mistakes are set aside for a more understandable desire to be connected with family.

antzMeanwhile, former Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) returns to the company from which his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) expelled him. There Pym witnesses the unveiling of the Yellow Jacket, a suit that uses a modified version of his size altering particles to shrink and grow.

Realizing what Cross is about to unleash on the world, Pym takes the steps to recruit Lang and pass on the mantle. This flies against the wishes of his grudge-bearing daughter, who now spies against Cross and sees herself using the suit to stop the Yellowjacket.

Ant-Man has a number of themes worth mentioning. Broken families are a constant for both the main characters. One tries to mend the damage caused by his absence, the other is trying to prevent it. Rather than some unrealistic sense of healing the fractured relationships perfectly, there is more an acceptance of the imperfections and general good will to try and become better men. Although it takes a dramatic act on the parts of the characters to prove they truly mean it.

Hope_Van_DyneThere’s also an insinuation that corporations were inherently malevolent; while Iron Man was more inclined to take the view that companies represent the views of their owners, every corporation in Ant-Man is at worst morally corrupt and at best unkind. VistaCorp, Stark Industries and the current Pym Technologies are varying degrees of villains.

Even Baskin Robbins (of all businesses) gets teased, as they eventually learn of Lang’s criminal past and terminate his employment with them. Given the swiftly established likability of Rudd’s character, this casts the ice-cream giant in a negative light for being unwilling to give our hero a second chance.

But the hints of redemption are the best elements of all. More on that in a moment.

Michael Douglas is far more than good as Hank Pym. He crafts a brilliant and angry character, portraying Pym’s ardor in several degrees that never grow dull. From a provoked violent streak to calmly delivered sarcasm and frustrations with his daughter, the trio of van Dyne, Cross and Pym make for a satisfying though partial story. Cross, I feel, wasn’t the under developed villain many critics think he was. Rather I believe Reed wisely veered away from revealing too much of Cross’ motivations for fear of indirectly illuminating Hank Pym’s secrets too early. The two men’s histories are, after all, greatly entwined.

Redemption requires regret, and that’s a line that Marvel seems to tread with care. In the original comics, Hank Pym has a history of domestic violence towards his wife Janet van Dyne. A single act during the 80s is perceived as accidental, but the more recent Ultimates series portrayed Pym as mentally unstable, and left no doubt that abuse was on-going.

hank pymThe movie seems to insinuate, based on Cross’ increasingly erratic behavior, that this is a side-effect of prolonged exposure to the Pym particle. It is possible that Pym’s secrets were simply remorse for the fate of Janet, but it could also imply that the MCU Pym may have mistreated his wife as well. This issue is not something to be casually tossed into the script without prudence and remorse, something Ant-Man didn’t have time to approach.

Likewise, Rudd’s Scott Lang has a similar need for a second chance. But while people can be on the fence about Pym, Lang is instantly likable, not really flawed but rather carrying the burden of his mistake. Even the Baskin Robbins’ manager was sympathetic as to the reason for his criminal history despite still having to fire him. You see Lang trying against the odds to be there for his daughter when it actually matters and not years down the road after the heavy lifting has been complete. Lang is so cool, he even helps make sense of Pym’s concern for his daughter, articulating with emphatic brilliance why Pym was so reluctant to let his daughter be the Ant-(Wo)man, and helping to cement another path for her.

With regard to that future, I am rather excited for the possibility of Evangeline Lilly as the future Wasp in the MCU. Marvel has suffered from a lack of good super heroines due to Fox Studios possessing the rights to the X-Men, and Lilly is a great actress who portrays Hope van Dyne with an emotional depth surpassing Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (Elizabeth Olsen hasn’t had much time to fully mature into her role as the Scarlet Witch yet.) It has also been suggested that Janet van Dyne may someday return, as Scott Lang figured his way out of sub-atomic space. But if Lang could, then what of Darren Cross?


Ant-Man is easily one of Marvel’s best movies. It’s fun, it’s funny, and although it hints at the Avengers it never really needs them. It values wit, smarts and charm over power, and these factors put it more on par with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. One would never believe that someone could take a hero named Ant-Man seriously, but not only does it succeed, it does so over the sound of laughter.

Battletech KickStarter


During my teenage years I was a considerable fan of the Battletech universe. To this day, I still have several books including technical readouts and novels by Michael A. Stackpole, William H. Keith Jr and Robert Thurston, as well as a small collection of the tabletop miniatures. If I dig, I might even find several hard copies of the MechWarrior game series.

So when I heard the news about Harebrained Schemes putting together a new KickStarter for a fresh Battletech title, I wanted to take some time to dissect the news. Truth be, this seems to be a situation where KickStarter is the absolute safest approach to gauging consumer interest. More on this in a moment.

For newcomers, Battletech is a war game that puts players on the 31st century battlefield, filled with walking tanks known as Battlemechs. The background goes that a star-settled humanity was united by the Star League, and held together by five Great Houses in the territory around Terra known as the “Inner Sphere.” When the ruling Star Lord (not Peter Quill) and his family were assassinated, the Star League army slew his usurper and disappeared into the unexplored Periphery territories. Left with their private armies, the five Great Houses each declared themselves the new Star Lord and sought to claim the Inner Sphere as their own.

techreadoutThis began a series of conflicts known as the Succession Wars. Several centuries later, the first couple of wars have knocked humanity down a peg or two and have truly desensitized our species to the violence.

Liberal use of nuclear weapons and heavy targeting of science and production centers has sent our technology backwards. As a result, several technology preserved agreements even as the battles and raids continue.

Eventually the Star League army returns, reformed as the Clans. A more technologically advanced and warrior-derived society, they move to seize control of the Inner Sphere. This results in a massive, fragile alliance between the Houses, the effects of which change the political landscape forever.

In the games, players join a side and engage in a variety of machines such as assassinations, protecting or invading territory, scouting or escaping. Depending on the nature of the title, players can pilot the machines themselves simulator style, command lances or companies and/or order them about much like a real time strategy game with very limited resources. The titles with the “mercenaries” suffix also feature a great deal of economic management, giving incentive to avoid damage and minimize ammunition expenditures to keep the C-bill revenues in the black.

Originally created and owned by FASA Corporation, Battletech has faced hardships from its very conception. The earliest fourteen designs were heavily based off of several anime series, and the legal rights came under challenge from Harmony Gold. These now “unseen” designs are gone, but in their place are hundreds of new, original mech designs.

The problems didn’t end there though. FASA Corporation closed its doors in 2001, and the rights to various projects shuffled about for sometime. The franchise was acquired by WizKids, and then by Topps only three years later. The video games have gone through several publishers, including MicroProse and Microsoft. Recently two new games were released, the free-to-play MechWarrior Online from Piranha Games and MechWarrior Tactics whose publisher has filed for bankruptcy.

successionwarsFor better or worse, Battletech separates itself from many similar board top properties with its detailed history, that has been expanded upon for more than two decades. This on-going history can be an impressive barrier-to-entry for potential new fans. While Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 thrive in a universe of ignorance, doubt, deniability and massiveness, no historic event happens in Battletech that isn’t somehow recorded and important.

Clans and factions too have been and will be destroyed, such as the enigmatic Clan Wolverine who may have become the Minnesota Tribe, and Clan Smoke Jaguar who was the victim of the massive The Twilight of the Clans book series. Major political figures have been born, raised and die, though the reasons range from battles and assassinations to old fashioned age and cancer. 

My faith in the series has long died away since my favorite authors have moved on and the ever changing hands weakened the brand. But if there’s anyone out there who can get it right, it’s going to be series creator Jordon Weisman. After his company’s incredible work with the Shadowrun franchise, his name alone justifies tossing a few dollars into the hat.

Look for the Battletech Kickstarter this fall.

True Four, Also Known As Fantastic Detective


No spoilers today.

Recent events make it appear that everyone’s been having a rough time both on the screen and off.

This season of True Detective ended last night. One way or the other, people are discussing the finale. Nic Pizzolatto’s craziest accomplishment is how much he made finding a consensus difficult.

I don’t think I’ve ever been audience to a television series which has been quite this divisive without someone finding it offensive. It has everyone thinking and feeling. All the pieces of a phenomenal story are present, but were they used to peak effect? An element one must accept about True Detective is how the villains can win. There’s rarely absolute justice. Even the victories tend to let someone slip through the cracks, someone gets away into the dark. Perhaps that robs some shred of hope for which we secretly long. For me, personally, I greatly enjoyed this season because of the themes of corruption and the attempt to fight a system that resists by any means necessary.

But that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

True Detective will probably always face that difficult task of trying to improve, while at the same time refusing to heed the critics. It’s not that the naysayers are wrong, but trying to appease those judgmental of art often fail to win real respect.

But while True Detective walks that polarizing tightrope, Fantastic Four decidedly fell from its perch. The film has done so poorly with critics, it teeters back and forth between single and double digits on Rotten Tomatoes. I have yet to see it myself and given these reactions, I almost want to catch it for no other reason than to see what could elicit such a reaction. However, I’ll likely be waiting until it comes to the movie channels.

Director Josh Trank is said to have posted and then deleted a tweet putting the blame on Fox Studios. Such an event would fail to surprise. After all, there was supposedly a great deal of pressure on David Fincher when he directed Alien 3 that he nearly quit the industry entirely.

On the flip side, Fincher came back with a series of fantastic movies like Fight Club and Se7en which are some fan favorites and cult classics in their own right, as well as critical winners like The Social Network. Who knows? Given his work on the critically acclaimed Chronicle, maybe Trank is another Fincher who just hasn’t had the chance to mature a little.

Time will tell.